Ask the Locals: Ken Welch, Pinellas politico

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click to enlarge Ask the Locals: Ken Welch, Pinellas politico - Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
Ask the Locals: Ken Welch, Pinellas politico

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch grew up in South St. Petersburg. His grandmother lived off 22nd Street South, a historic business district that was a mecca for famous jazz musicians and African American business owners and leaders back in Welch’s parents’ day.

Welch, 49, graduated from Lakewood Senior High School, where he says he was “a band brat” who swapped his disco albums for rock albums with a red-haired classmate named Rod. His father was David Welch, the second black man elected to the St. Pete City Council, who served three four-year terms during a time of marked racial tension and redevelopment in the city.

The father of two studied accounting at the University of South Florida and got his Master’s in business administration from Florida A&M University. He spent 14 years at Florida Power Corporation (now Duke Energy) and has been involved in Pinellas County politics for well over a decade.

In 2000, he was elected to the District 7 seat of the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners. He was re-elected in 2004, 2008 and 2012. He serves on several boards and committees, including the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Pinellas County Business Technology Services Board and Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Donna for 23 years.

Best place to fill your belly: Sylvia’s Restaurant. “It’s authentic soul food, real Southern stuff, like the kind of food your mama used to make.”

Most essential St. Pete eatery: The Chattaway. “They’ve got outstanding hamburgers, outdoor Florida ambience and jazz music. It’s a homey atmosphere.”

Best place to talk politics: Kahwa South. “It’s a real political hangout. Darden Rice is there every morning and a lot of business people. You’ve got the folks from the Times coming and going. It’s a hot spot.”

Best underrated seafood spot: Leverock’s in South Pasadena. “This is my family’s favorite place. It’s like a Bonefish Grill, but more homegrown. They’ve got an onion-crusted salmon that’s to die for and this grouper with shrimp and scallops over rice.”

Best place to take a date: BellaBrava. “Anything in downtown St. Pete makes for a good date night. BellaBrava has a nice outdoor dining area, although I’m the one who likes to eat outside. My wife prefers to eat inside, so we’re constantly compromising.”

Best urban renewal: “My dad, David Welch, was on the city council in the ’80s and they were talking about revitalizing downtown then. It’s finally happening!”

Best path less traveled: The Skyway Trail. “It connects to the Pinellas Trail. You basically go all the way to the North Skyway fishing pier.”

Best bike store: ABC Bicycles. “I ride a Gary Fisher bike that I got from ABC Bicycles 14 years ago. I feel a little guilty that I haven’t purchased a new one in the last decade. They sell quality products.”

Best place to sweat it out: Jim & Heather Gills YMCA. “I do the majority of my workouts there.”

Best place to gather signatures: Funk Fest. “Any music event at Vinoy Park is generally a good place to get signatures.”

Best hidden waterfront: Gulfport Beach Park. “It’s accessible and not overly crowded. Gulfport is like our mini Key West.”

Best guilty pleasure: Papa John’s Pizza. “It’s all about convenience in my house. I get the tweets form Papa John’s and two clicks later I’ve got a pizza.”

Best local nosh: Connie’s BBQ in Midtown. “I used to walk to Geech’s BBQ from my grandmother’s house. Geech’s has since closed but Connie’s is carrying on its famous secret mustard base sauce. It’s so good, there are no words.”

Best blast from the past: Manhattan Casino. “Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and all the big names played there. Back in the heyday, 22nd Street South was vibrant. I think we’re about to see a renaissance of that area.”

Best local musician: Jazz saxophonist Hank Ashwood. “I play sax, too, so I really appreciate his style. He’s the real deal. He plays at The Chattaway a lot.”

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